It’s Time For the World to Cut Back on Beef and Dairy

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

If some of your goals include helping the environment, sustainable living and reducing your carbon footprint, then you should seriously consider dramatically decreasing the amount of beef and dairy products you consume. Cattle farming for meat and dairy production is currently one of the most environmentally damaging practices in the world today.

Are Beef and Dairy Actually Bad for the Environment?

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that livestock was responsible for 15% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2016, and that number is now likely even higher. Of the total greenhouse gas emissions created from livestock, over 65% were from cattle raised for beef and dairy. Comparatively, pork was responsible for only 9% of total emissions, and poultry raised for meat and eggs responsible for only 8%. This means that despite near-equal numbers of pounds of meat created from chicken and beef, cattle creates almost 10x more GHG emissions throughout the production process.

For each kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef produced, 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere. Pork and chicken release less than 100 kilograms of CO2 emissions to produce the same amount of meat.

And CO2 emissions are not the only aspect of beef and dairy farming that are worrisome in regards to the environment. Cattle also need far more land than other animals to produce similar amounts of meat, often leading to huge deforestation projects. Numerous third world countries have cut down massive amounts of rainforests and wetlands to make room for lucrative cattle farms, destroying some of the planet’s best carbon sinks. Deforestation, combined with methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use, has produced more GHG emissions than all cars, airplanes and trucks in the world in the same time period.

Think about that number for a second.

According to the Washington Post, giving up beef once a week is the equivalent of keeping a car off the road for 760 miles in a year’s time. This means that while we struggle to reduce our carbon footprint by carpooling and taking public transportation (which is great!), simply giving up meat a few times a week has nearly the same effect on reducing GHG emissions!

Why It Matters

Over the last decade, virtually every climate scientist has specified that the world is rapidly approaching climate ‘tipping points’, which are basically irreversible levels of GHG in the atmosphere that we cannot reverse once achieved.

The main objective of world climate meetings, like the Paris Agreement, is to keep the planet from slipping past these crucial tipping points and to slow the onset of global climate change. If we are to achieve these goals and reduce average global temperatures, then the world needs to alter how it feeds itself. We need to move away from our dependence on beef and dairy and move towards sustainable options.

What Can You Do?

Even if you are not ready to give up all meats for good (which is ok!), you should seriously consider dramatically reducing your meat and dairy intake. Opting for plant-based meals a few days a week, or switching permanently to a plant-based milk alternative are a few ways you can help the planet and make strides in your personal battle against climate change!

What are some creative alternatives you have come up with to beef and dairy products? Share them with us in the comments below!

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Earthen Futures is a sustainability blog dedicated to keeping global citizens informed on ways to fight climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. We overview the latest environmental studies and research to provide you with the best available information on ways you can help the environment and make the world a better place.